• P. Frank

Eleven Pipers Piping

On the eleventh day of Christmas … eleven pipers piping. This day’s gift in the song can stand for the eleven faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. “These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.” (Matthew 10:2–4). Obviously, Judas Iscariot is the unfaithful disciple who betrayed Jesus. We will not cover his story here. These disciples can be divided into three groups of disciples, based on what we know of them. The first group of disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, had the closest relationship with Jesus. The second group of disciples consists of Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, and Matthew. Not much is known about the third group of disciples, James (son of Alphaeus), Judas son of James (also called Thaddeus and Lebbaeus), Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot. These groupings of disciples are listed in a similar order in all four books of the Bible where they appear together, according to the closeness of their relationships with Jesus Christ.

While we remember the eleven faithful disciples for their devotion to and close relationship with Christ, all had strengths and weaknesses, fortes and flaws. All were sinful humans, yet through Scriptures we can see their lives transformed through Jesus.

Simon, also called Peter, his brother Andrew, James, and John, were all fishermen. These four men are notable for their leadership. Peter was outspoken and bold. He was the only disciple to rebuke Jesus (Matthew 16:22), and as a result was strongly rebuked by Jesus. However, he was also humble and teachable. Andrew was Peter’s younger brother and seemed to have more of a supporting role, keeping much quieter than his brother. However, Andrew is notable for leading Peter to Jesus, letting his brother know as soon as he had found the Messiah (John 1:41), and it is likely that he continued to use personal relationships to bring many people to Christ after Pentecost. James and John were brothers who were both known for being brash, ambitious, and zealous. They wanted to lead and indeed did so. After Jesus’ resurrection, James was the first disciple to be martyred. John was the only disciple not to be martyred; he wrote much of the New Testament and eventually died of old age. Over the years, he learned to temper his zeal with love and truth, and his ambition with humility. Jesus charged John with taking care of His mother, Mary, while He hung from the cross (John 19:26–27).

Philip may have also been a fisherman. He was a practical, organized, and methodical man who was likely in charge of logistics for the journeys of Jesus and His disciples. Philip’s focus on logistics, however, sometimes got in the way of his faith. When confronted with a crowd of 5,000 hungry people, he responded to Jesus that it was impossible to feed them (John 6:7). He was often slow to realize who Jesus was and what He could do. Bartholomew (also known as Nathanael) knew the Old Testament well and often quoted Scripture in talking to Jesus. Like so many people, his notions of who the Messiah should be did not match what he saw in Jesus (John 1:46), but he was a faithful and sincere disciple. Thomas is often called “doubting Thomas” for his reluctance to believe that Jesus had been resurrected without having seen Him in the upper room. But even though realism and pessimism were characteristic of Thomas, he was also loyal and devoted. Matthew is well-known to have been a tax collector, which marked him as a sinful man hated by the Jews. While tax collectors did serve a purpose in gathering money that was due to the Roman government, they also levied additional fees that benefited the Romans and themselves beyond what was rightfully owed. Once Matthew had been called by Jesus, however, he never looked back on his former trade, and even held a banquet for his friends who were also tax collectors and sinners so that they could meet Jesus too.

Little is known about the last three disciples. James the son of Alphaeus was referred to as “mikros” or “lesser” to distinguish him from James the son of Zebedee. This may have referred to his stature or his relationship to Christ, or both. Judas son of James was also known as Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus, both names meaning “childlike.” These nicknames may have referred to his birth order or a personality characteristic; if referring to his heart and faith, this may have been a good character trait (Matthew 18:3). Simon the Zealot is notable for his title, as Zealots were a known segment of Jews notable for political extremism and terrorism, even assassinating Romans and tax collectors. Before being called by Jesus, he and Matthew would have been enemies.

All eleven of the faithful disciples were imperfect, yet they learned from Jesus firsthand about how to live, how to love, and most importantly, who He is. After Pentecost, they spread His message around the world, reaching countries far away from where they were first called. Their stories are a reminder that anyone can follow Jesus, no matter who you are, where you are from, or what you have done.

”The Twelve Days of Christmas” song image is by Xavier Romero-Frias and used under Creative Commons license BY-SA 3.0. Much of the information for this post came from the book “Twelve Ordinary Men” by John MacArthur.